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Brazil sends military troops to violence-plagued Rio

From the CNN Wire Staff
Brazilian navy soldiers patrol Vila Cruzeiro shantytown on November 26, 2010 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Brazilian navy soldiers patrol Vila Cruzeiro shantytown on November 26, 2010 in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Key drug ring leader killed, Brazil military police say
  • The violence continued Friday with at least seven more vehicles burned
  • At least 35 people have died since the outbreaks started Sunday, police say
  • 197 people have been arrested or detained so far, military police say

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil (CNN) -- Authorities sent in the military to help authorities quell violence that continued Friday in the slums of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, with criminal gangs torching at least two more buses and five cars before dawn, state media reported.

At the Complexo do Alemao, or German Complex, in northern Rio, some 800 soldiers joined hundreds of police from the Special Operations Battalion, federal police and marines, state-run Agencia Brasil reported Friday.

Police and drug gangs exchanged shots during the night.

A key drug ring leader in the German Complex, 24-year-old Thiago Ferreira Faria, was shot and killed during Friday's police operations, according to Brazil's military police website.

Earlier Friday, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim met with the governor of Rio de Janeiro state, Sergio Cabral, and security authorities of the federal and state governments. The Army agreed to make available 10 armored vehicles and the Navy offered three helicopters, according to the news agency.

Brazil's street violence spikes
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At least 35 people have died and 197 have been detained or arrested since violence broke out Sunday as a response by drug gangs to an increased police presence in the crime-ridden slums, police said. More than 96 vehicles have been burned.

Three police officers have been injured, according to state military police.

The soldiers were dispatched to the city to protect the perimeter of the areas occupied by police, Jobim said.

But the military commander of the east, Gen. Adriano Pereira Junior, said that if soldiers are attacked, they will react. "Our initial goal is to surround the area, but if you there's confrontation, unfortunately we'll have to respond to the attack."

The military plans to gain control of all entry points into some slums, the news agency said, citing Roberto Sa, a state security official.

The continuing unrest stems from efforts by police to remove drug gang members from Rio's thickly populated slums, called favelas.

Police began preparing early Friday for an incursion into one called Vila Cruzeiro. They had surrounded the area since Thursday, when about 200 drug dealers fled toward nearby neighborhoods, terrifying residents.

"I stayed inside the house with my grandchildren," said Darcy Barbosa, who is retired. "We could not leave. We slept on the floor to escape the bullets."

What the police have described as drug-dealer strongholds are also home to law-abiding residents, many of whom tried Friday to go about their routines.

"Life continues," said Simone Teodoro, who sells sodas. "People have to work, to go up, to go down, to sleep."

Inside one slum were trucks and other vehicles that police said the drug dealers had used as barricades to block the passage of government tanks. Authorities were using cranes and other heavy equipment to remove them.

But police in Vila Cruzeiro were not in control Friday. Frequent machine gun bursts could be heard. A police helicopter fired on suspected drug dealers who fired back.

Some residents ignored, or pretended to ignore, the gunshots emanating from the hilltop redoubts under siege by the police.

"I have to drop my children with a girl who takes care of them so I can go to work," said Roseane da Silva, a maid.

Police showed off dozens of motorcycles that had been stolen and then hidden in a bread shop. They also showed off seized rifles, grenades, homemade bombs, cocaine, marijuana, a balance, bulletproof vests.

Most residents appeared to support the government's counteroffensive, though they recognized it came at a high cost.

"We can't even sleep at night," said Cristiane Accioli, a telephone operator. "We close all the windows, afraid they they will invade."

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reiterated his support Thursday for state and local officials' efforts, saying he had spoken with the governor of Rio de Janeiro state, Sergio Cabral. The city and the state have the same name.

"I told Sergio Cabral that whatever help he needs from the federal government so people will live in peace in this country, we will give him," Lula said. "Rio de Janeiro can rest assured that we will support the governor and the residents of the state."

Police said this week they had transferred some prisoners from local institutions to federal lockups in other states, Agencia Brasil reported, citing Rio de Janeiro Public Security Secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame. Some of the prisoners being transferred ordered the violence by drug gangs, Beltrame said.

He said two rival gangs joined forces to launch the attacks. The security chief also said he mobilized all police in the city to try to restore order and to step up police presence in 17 of Rio's slums.

Agencia Brasil reported Brazil's Marine Corps sent armored vehicles, weapons, ammunition and night-vision goggles for use by Rio de Janeiro security forces at the request of Cabral.

At least 47 public schools and 10 nurseries suspended classes Thursday, Agencia Brasil reported.

Officials are concerned about crime in Brazil as the nation prepares to host the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Summer Olympics, both of which will be held in Rio.

Journalists Luciani Gomes and Fabiana Frayssinet contributed to this report.